from the Letters of William Carlos Williams
To Kay Boyle (1932)
“Dear Kay Boyle….. There is no workable poetic form extant among us today..Joyce and Stein have..gone out of their way to draw down the attention on words so that the line has become pulverous instead of metallic – or at least ductile…For myself I have written very little poetry recently. Form, the form has been lacking. Instead I have been watching speech in my own environment from which I continually expect to discover whatever of new is being reflected about the world….It is the poet who lives locally and whose senses are applied, nowhere else but locally, to particulars, who is the agent and maker of all culture. Let us once and for all understand that Eliot is finally and definitely dead and his troop along with him….For me, poetry’s virtue lies in relating to the immediacy of my life. I live where I live and acknowledge no lack of opportunity because of that to be alert to facts, to the music of events, of words, of the speech of people about me.”.
“Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls/its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He/ lies on his right side, head near the thunder/ of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,/ his dreams walk about the city where he persists/incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear./Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom/seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations/drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river/animate a thousand automations. Who because they/neither know their sources nor the sills of their/disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly for the most part,/locked and forgot in their desires-unroused./ —Say it, no ideas but in things—/nothing but the blank faces of the houses/and cylindrical trees/bent, forked by preconception and accident—/split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—/secret—into the body of the light!/ From above, higher than the spires, higher/even than the office towers, from oozy fields/abandoned to gray beds of dead grass,/black sumac, withered weed-stalks,/mud and thickets cluttered with dead leaves-/ the river comes pouring in above the city/and crashes from the edge of the gorge/in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists-/ (What common language to unravel?/. . .combed into straight lines/from that rafter of a rock’s lip.)/A man like a city and a woman like a flower/—who are in love. Two women. Three women./Innumerable women, each like a flower./ But only one man—like a city.”
and, of course:
“This Is Just To Say” – “I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox/ and which/you were probably/saving/for breakfast/ Forgive me/they were delicious/so sweet/and so cold”
At approximately seventeen minutes in, more footage of William Eric Williams at home and at work – (babies crying in the clinic) ….. – “First I want to test something, do you feel me sticking you now,? do you feel anything?” – “Oh. oh” – “do you feel that? No, you don’t” – “Oh I feel it!” – “Don’t you kick..” – “Ow” “Listen.. it isn’t hurting you because you’ve got novocaine”. – (What can I do?) . – “Well, you could learn your words. what are some of your words? what’s the word you learned today when you got hurt, remember? – it starts with an “h’? – “heck” – “no” – “no?” – “help!”, you could have used that today …..
Then, at approximately eighteen-and-a-half minutes in:
to Ezra Pound (1928)
“Dear Ezrie…., I do not consider myself a fool for having been a physician for the past twenty years. That was accurately figured out in its relation to my disposition and mental capabilities.It has all turned out precisely as I foresaw, save only that at my present age I planned to withdraw from active competition with the world and close up the gaps in my expositions, continuing at this till I was shoveled under or went daffy or satisfactorily convinced myself that I had failed. I am now engaged in cutting out much of my medical work under the guise of becoming a “Specialist”. Within a few months I will have done with evening office hours, that hellish drag. But it’s not going fast enough. I can’t quit cold. I would only torment myself into the grave if I did so. I ain’t built that way. I mean to withstand financial worries or to discover ways of living aside from the work of my hands. I have the new Cantos but there has been no time to read, as yet.”
notes on more documentary footage follows, of William Eric at his pediatric work
“….(and stock in that).. and a one-inch bandage….” (“How will it look?”) – “wait a week and I’ll tell you” – “I think it’ll look pretty good”…. – “Can he play?”- “Hell yes” – “I mean he can go out and get dirty and everything?” – “Yeah, you’re gonna be careful tho’, just don’t put that in dirty water, ok?” – “Hey, so he can pick up dirty things and stuff? ” – “No – You’re not going to are you? You’re going to be careful to keep your bandage clean, alright?” – “alright” – “Goodbye” -“I go”
“I – Well God is/ love /so love me / God/ is love so/ love me God/ is love so love me well – II – Love the sun/ comes/ up in/ the morning/ and/ in/ the evening/ zippy zappy/ it goes – III – We watched/ a red rooster/ with/ two hens/ back/ of the museum/at/St. Croix/ flap his/ wings/ zippy zappy/ and crow.”
I was delighted to hear from you, happy to know that you had written and happy too to be able to answer you as I am now doing. This is the first time that I have used a typewriter again for a letter for a month. It’s a major thrill. It’s a month since the damned stroke hit.
It was a great surprise to me for although I know I am far from invulnerable, I didn’t expect that. It seems to have resulted from trying to write a book in three months while carrying on the practice of medicine, just couldn’t bring it off.
Arthur Hill reads Williams’ “The Pink Locust”
“I’m persistent as the pink locust once admitted/to the garden, you will not easily get rid of it./ Tear it from the ground, if one hair-thin rootlet/remain it will come again.It is flattering to think of myself so. It is aldo laughable./ A modest flower, resembling a pink sweet-pea, you cannot help/ but admire it until its habits become known/ Are we not most of us like that? It would be too much/if the public pried among the minute of our private affairs/.Not that we have anything to hide but could they/stand it? Of course the world would be gratified to find out/what fools we have made of ourselves./ The question is, would they be generous with us- /as we have been with others?/ It is, I say, a flower incredibly resilient under attack!/ Neglect it and it will grow into a tree./I wish I could so think of myself and of what is to become of me./ The poet himself, what does he think of himself facing his world?/It will not do to say, as he is inclined to say: Not much. /The poem would be in that betrayed./ He might as well answer-“a rose is a rose/ is a rose” and let it go at that. A rose is a rose and the poem equals it/if it be well made. /The poet cannot slight himself without slighting his poem – which would be ridiculous./ Life offers no greater reward./ And so, like this flower, I persist – for what there may be in it/ I am not,/ I know./ in the galaxy of poets/ a rose/ but who, among the rest,/ will deny me/ my place.”
More documentary footage follows – “Hi Daddy “– William Eric greets his children .
to John C Thirlwall (editor of his Selected Letters)
“…I began in my early twenties to realize that I was dissatisfied with my lot and with my relatives, neighbors and friends who seemed not to understand me when I spoke to them. I loved them and could not understand what it was that was keeping us apart.
…I was early convinced that I had in the compass of my head a great discovery that if I could only get it out would not only settle my own internal conflicts but be of transcendent use to men and women around me. That it concerned something as evanescent as language I did not for a moment guess……
“More footage of Williams at home – Smells good” – “I could use a drink” – “Me too”
Dear Cal, I hope you’re having a profitable experience in Europe.It is another odyssey from which, not like some earlier American writers, I hope to see you return to America much enriched in your mind and ready to join your fellows here in pushing forward the craft. I think you are keeping your original frame of reference and not junking it. The trend has always been toward denial of origins, assertion of origins is the more fertile basis for thought and technique. I’m glad you recognize my affection for Pound. He was an orchid in my forest. He had no interest really for my trees. No more than did Eliot. They both belonged to an alien world, a world perhaps more elevated than mine, more removed from my rigors. I have always felt that I was sweating it out somewhere low, among the reptiles, hidden in the underbrush, hearing the monkeys overhead. Pound helped at the beginning, and has, it must be said, not weakened. Pound and Eliot have been faithful artists, both have refused to weaken, They’re both top men in the craft, but I must go beyond that.”
more Williams’ domestic/work footage. (with children) – “How many (building) blocks do we have?” -“Supper!” – “I’m back” – “Knock it down, come on, knock it down” “Whee!” – “Okay, gang”….”I know, I know” – “sorry” – “We’ll make another one later, okay?.”
At the conclusion of the film, Arthur Hill reads Williams’ “The Descent”
“The descent beckons/as the ascent beckoned/Memory is a kind/. of accomplishment/a sort of renewal/even/ an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places/inhabited by hordes/heretofore unrealized/of new kinds—/since their movements/are toward new objectives/(even though formerly they were abandoned)/ No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since/the world it opens is always a place/formerly/unsuspected. A/world lost/a world unsuspected/beckons to new places/and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory/of whiteness/ With evening, love wakens/though its shadows/which are alive by reason/of the sun shining—/grow sleepy now and drop away/from desire/. Love without shadows stirs now/beginning to awaken/as night/advances/ The descent/made up of despairs/and without accomplishment/realizes a new awakening:/which is a reversal of despair/For what we cannot accomplish, what/is denied to love/what we have lost in the anticipation—/a descent follows/endless and indestructible.”
The documentary concludes with the presentation of a number of well-chosen, still photographs of Dr. William Carlos Williams.